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Land & Lakes No. 2 Landfill Ecological Risk Assessment

Site Description/History

Environmental Setting

In this section, the history of the site, along with endangered species known (or suspected) to be at the site, is described. Information about the historical and current land-use, as well as types of habitats, and known or suspected sources of contamination.

Site Description

The landfill is located on the southern bank of the Little Calumet River, northeast of the junction of 138th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, Chicago, Illinois. It is bounded by the river on the north and northeast. The adjacent properties on the south side of the river are disturbed. There are two neighboring landfills to the south and west, a junkyard on the southwest, and a spoils pile to the east. The Beaubien Preserve, Cook County Forest Preserve District, is immediately across the river and has a public boat launch on the Little Calumet River.

The Little Calumet River is the most important ecological resource near the landfill.

Palustrine wetlands were identified from the Lake Calumet and Blue Island wetlands maps. A small (0.4 x 0.04 mi) emergent vegetation wetland is as close as 0.15 miles to the southwest corner of the landfill, but is upgradient of the reported ditch flows. A complex of forest and emergent vegetation wetlands is located about 0.4 mi southeast of the landfill, but is the opposite side of a basin of the Little Calumet and is upstream of the usual flow of the river. The Beaubien Preserve has approximately 0.8 mi frontage of temporarily and seasonally flooded deciduous forest and emergent vegetation wetlands on the Little Calumet. Most of this is east and upstream of the landfill, but about 0.2 mi of the forest wetland is directly across the river (this apparently served as the background soil sample locations for the ESI).

Another small (0.4 x 0.08 mi) temporarily flooded mixed forest and emergent vegetation wetland is across the river from the landfill, in Altgeld Gardens, west of Beaubien Preserve and south of Carver Park. This wetland is not shown as directly fronting the river, and is classified as having partial drainage. The next closest wetlands along the river are two deciduous forest palustrine wetlands about 2.5 and 2.75 mi downstream. The former, with about 0.14 mi river frontage, is on the north bank between the river and the rail spur south of 127th Street, and is temporarily flooded. The latter, with approximately 0.5 mi river frontage, is on the south bank west of the rail bridge, part of the Whistler Preserve, Cook County Forest Preserve District, Riverdale, and is seasonally flooded.

Lake Calumet is 1.75 mi directly north of the landfill (about 5 mi upstream). It is unlikely to receive contaminants from the landfill, but is significant in that it contains black-crowned night herons, double-crested cormorants, great egrets and great blue herons. The former three species are listed as state threatened. The foraging distance of great blue herons ranges from 1 to 5 mi or more (U.S. EPA 1993), and therefore may include the Little Calumet River adjacent to and downstream from the landfill. The same is probably true of the other species. A great egret (Casmerodius albus) was observed feeding in the Little Calumet River during the site visit. Other state-listed birds at Lake Calumet include common moorhens, pied-billed grebes, least bitterns, black tern, and yellow-headed blackbirds. A substantial colony of double-crested cormorants also is established in Riverdale.

The landfill was closed in 1993 because of severe erosion of the northern slope of the landfill, waste exposure, and leachate seepage into the Little Calumet River. Leachate seeps to the river and drainage ditches were reported by Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) in 1981 and 1983. Exposed waste and leachate seeps were observed during a reconnaissance site visit in April 1993. Sediment, soil, and surface water samples were collected in October 1993, concentrating on seepage locations. Groundwater samples were collected in October and November 1993. Refer to the Expanded Site Investigation (ESI) for the complete sampling results.

Threatened and Endangered Species

Table 1. Threatened and Endangered Species: Animals

(click here to go to photo gallery of threatened and endangered species)

Species Common Name

Scientific Name Status Thumbnail image (click for photo gallery)
Black-crowned night heron Nycticorax nyticorax ST thumbnail of black crowned night heron
Great egret Casmerodius albus ST great egret thumbnail
Great blue heron Ardea herodias NL thumbnail of Great Blue Heron
Common moorhen Gallinula chloropus ST .
Pied-billed grebe Podilymbus podiceps ST
Least bittern Ixobrychus exilis ST n.a.
Black tern Chlidonias niger ST thumbnail of black tern
Yellow-headed blackbird Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus ST yellow-headed blackbird thumbnail
Double-crested cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus ST thumbnail of Double Crested Cormorant

Status: ST = listed as threated by the state of Illinois; NL = not listed either federallly or by the state

SLERA (Screening Level Risk Assessment):
Screening Level Problem Formulation (Step 1)

For this site, the Region 5 ecologist (James Chapman) performed the Ecological Risk Assessment, including calculation of Hazard Quotients (HQ), deciding on potential assessment endpoints and conceptual site models (See ERA Guidance Step 3 for more information on endpoints and site models).

This section describes the likely sources of contamination, what the contaminants are, and what plants and animals at the site are likely to be affected by those contaminants and in what manner.

Contaminants of Potential Ecological Concern (COPECs)

See TOXICITY PROFILES for more information on the toxic effects of the various COCs found at this site.

Fate, Transport, and Ecotoxicity

Only those chemicals likely to contribute to the potential ecological risks of the site are discussed in this section. This procedure is followed because the screening level ecological risk assessment (SLERA) is based on a screening comparison of the concentrations of COPECs with benchmark guidelines by media (soil, sediment, or surface water). This numerical comparison results in a Hazard Quotient; if the HQ is greater than one, the potential for ecological risk by that COPEC is present. (See Step 2 of the Guidance for more details.)

The benchmark values are sufficiently conservative so that chemicals detected at concentrations below the guidelines are not expected to exhibit significant ecological effects, even if fully bioavailable. Since fate, transport and toxicity variables do not modify the outcome of the screening (these effects are embedded in the derivation of the particular guidelines), discussions of these processes for the chemicals screened out are unlikely to contribute meaningful information to the SLERA.

Exposure Pathways and Potential Receptors

Aquatic receptors are at greatest risk from contaminant release from the landfill. Pathways to the river ecosystem may include leachate seepage, runoff, erosion, and groundwater discharge. Potential receptors include benthic organisms, fish, amphibians, aquatic vegetation, and birds and mammals that eat aquatic plants and animals. Likely forage fish include gizzard shad, common carp, white bass and channel catfish. The first two species comprise the majority of the diet of great blue herons. These species provide potential pathways for bioaccumulative compounds from river water and sediments to piscivores (fish-eaters).

Figure 1. Conceptual Site Model for Land and Lakes Landfill site


Possible terrestrial receptors include avian vermivores (worm-eating birds) and raptors--the latter if rodent populations are established on the landfill or between the landfill and the river. Avian vermivores were not observed during the site visit, probably because the tall grass cover on the landfill cap is unfavorable habitat for vermivory. However, the site would provide appropriate vermivore habitat for a few weeks following mowing, which is reportedly performed twice each year. All the birds observed on-site during the visit were granivores (grain/seed-eaters), including dickcissels (Spiza americana) and sparrows. Granivory is unlikely to be a significant exposure pathway.

SLERA: Risk Calculations/Exposure Estimates (Step 2)

This section includes calculations of Hazard Quotients and calculated estimations of risk by COPECs to potential receptors in different media (soil, sediment, surface water). This step involves the comparison of the concentrations of COPECs with benchmark guidelines by media (sediment, soil, surface water). If the maximum concentration of a chemical found at the site exceeds the screening benchmark guideline, then there is the potential for risk and further study is needed to clarify that risk. (See SLERA Step 2 for more information on the screening process, including calculating Hazard Quotients.)

Ecotoxicological Benchmark Values

The Screening Level Ecological Risk Assessment (SLERA) is based on a screening comparison of the concentrations of COPECs with benchmark guidelines by media.

Exposure Estimates & Risk Characterization

The sediments of the ditches that drain the south and west sides of the landfill are highly contaminated with PAHs. Other COCs that repeatedly exceed sediment benchmark values include dieldrin, DDT/DDD/DDE, endosulfan, chlordane, PCBs and lead (Pb). The following COCs exceed benchmark values in one or two ditch sediment samples: aldrin, endrin, cadmium (Cd), and mercury (Hg) (samples ST01-07). The sediment samples taken along the edge of the Little Calumet River are also consistently contaminated with PAHs, cadmium and lead. One or two river edge sediment samples had exceedances for DDT/DDD/DDE, chlordane, PCBs, and Hg (samples ST09-12). There is only one exceedance (Cd) for the background sediment sample (ST08).

Two PAHs, benzo[a]anthracene and benzo[a]pyrene, exceed soil benchmark values in all three soil samples. Indeno[1,2,3-cd]pyrene exceeds the benchmark in both of the soil samples taken on top of the landfill (SS01 and 02). Other exceedances for SS02 include total PAHs, PCBs, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, nickel (Ni), silver (Ag), zinc (Zn), and cyanide. Cadmium and copper also meet benchmark values in SS01 (Table 3). There are no exceedances for the background soil sample (SS04).

Federal Ambient Water Quality Criteria (AWQC) numbers that are protective of aquatic life are exceeded by copper (Cu), iron (Fe), and cyanide in surface water sample SW03, and by chromium (Cr) and cyanide in groundwater sample GW03 (U.S. EPA 1986).

The data show that the Land and Lakes No. 2 Landfill is a source of PAHs to the Little Calumet River. The following PAHs exceed benchmark values in all on-site sediment samples:

Benzo[a]pyrene and benzo[a]anthracene exceed benchmark values in 10 of 11 on-site sediment samples, and benzo[k]fluoranthene in 9 of 11 samples. Soil samples support the sediment findings. Benzo[a] pyrene and benzo[a]anthracene exceed benchmark values in all three on-site soil samples. Indeno[1,2,3-cd]pyrene exceeds benchmark values in 2 of 3 soil samples, and total PAHs in one sample (SS02).

The concurrence between sediment and soil sample results is evidence that the primary source of the PAHs is the Land and Lakes No. 2 Landfill. A provisional indication of potential impact is shown by the samples that exceed the severe effect level (SEL) of the Ontario Sediment Guidelines.The SEL is indicative of heavily polluted conditions that are expected to have adverse effects on the majority (95%) of benthic organisms (Persaud, et al. 1993). SELs for nonpolar organic compounds were derived assuming 1% TOC. Phenanthrene, fluoranthene, pyrene, and chrysene exceed the SELs in the south ditch, and total PAHs exceed the SEL in the west ditch (including the outflow to the Little Calumet).

The comparisons for ditch samples are for illustrative purposes, since the ditches are not considered viable habitat to be protected for their own sake; however, the comparisons are indicative of the toxicity of the sediments being washed into the river. As discussed above, the primary concerns are reductions in growth and survival of algae, benthic invertebrates, and the young of fish and amphibians.

Cyanide is another contaminant found in high concentration in multiple media (soil, sediment, surface water). Cyanide exceeds federal Ambient Water Quality Criteria (AWQC) protective of aquatic life in the surface water sample taken at the outflow of the west ditch, and in the groundwater sample on the north side of the landfill. Cyanide also exceeds the Netherland-Quebec Soil Quality Guidelines in soil sample SS02. It exceeds criterion C (heavily polluted) if the sample results are taken to be free cyanide, or criterion B (moderately polluted) if taken to be complex cyanide. The concentration at the outflow of the west ditch (50.8 g/l, SW03) is within the lethal range for sensitive fish species, and is an order of magnitude greater than the levels associated with sublethal effects on swimming and reproduction.

Several chemicals subject to bioaccumulation and biomagnification exceed benchmark values in sediment samples: PCBs, DDT, DDD, DDE, dieldrin, chlordane and mercury (Hg). Total PCBs also exceed the soil benchmark value in sample SS02. The other chemicals do not exceed soil benchmark values. The primary ecological risks of PCBs and DDT and its metabolites are associated with reproductive impairment in upper trophic level organisms. Avian and mammalian piscivores are at greatest risk. Chlordane and dieldrin are acutely toxic to a wide variety of organisms. Benthic invertebrates, fish, and amphibians are at greatest risk.

Mercury presents a potential risk to the growth and reproduction of fish, amphibians, and piscivores (fish-eaters). The following metals exceed soil benchmark values in sample SS02: cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, nickel, silver, and zinc. All but nickel and silver exceed the benchmark representative of heavily contaminated soils, however, only cadmium and copper exceed benchmark values in more than one soil sample. Lead exceeds sediment benchmark values in all ditch and river samples, but exceeds the severe effect level (SEL) only in river samples. Cadmium exceeds sediment benchmark values in one ditch sample and 3 river samples, however, it also exceeds the benchmark value in the background sediment sample. The potential risk associated with these metals was mainly associated with direct exposure to contaminated soil at SS02. Because the landfill has been capped, this pathway will not be discussed further. Although lead is widespread in the ditch and river samples, the ditch levels are uniformly low and will not be considered further.

The primary potential ecological risks are associated with PAHs and cyanide, based on their detection in multiple media (sediments and soil for the former; soil, groundwater and surface water for the latter), concentration, ubiquity (particularly for PAHs), and demonstrated pathway to the Little Calumet River. The presence of bioaccumulative compounds (PCBs, DDT/DDD/DDE, and cyclodiene pesticides) is also of potential concern. While the sediment concentrations are well below severe effect level (SEL) benchmarks, the persistence and potential for biomagnification of these compounds may present long-term risks to upper trophic level organisms.

Scientific-Management Decision Point (SMDP)

Conclusions and Recommendations

The preliminary ecological assessment indicates that, at the time of the Expanded Site Investigation (ESI), Land and Lakes Landfill No. 2 may have presented ecological risks to aquatic biota in the Little Calumet River through release of cyanide and PAHs. Piscivores (fish-eaters) may also been at risk through release of PCBs, DDT and metabolites, and other cyclodiene pesticides. However, this preliminary assessment may not apply to current conditions at the site because of the installation of a landfill cap.

Recommendations are to resample sediments and surface water to determine the effectiveness of the cap, take new river background samples, and sample the ditch sediments upgradient of the site.

Risk Management SMDP/Current Status (Step 8)

Activities Subsequent to the ESI

The condition of the site was changed significantly after the Expanded Site Inspection (ESI) by the installation of a cap over the landfill. The cap was well-vegetated at the time of the site visit and showed no overt signs of instability. There were no exposed wastes or visible seeps either on top of the landfill or along the river bank. The presence of the cap may substantially modify the conclusions regarding ecological risk in this report. Direct exposure to soil contaminants is no longer a potential exposure pathway. Surface transport of contaminants to the river, either directly through seeps and/or erosion or indirectly via the ditch, should no longer occur if the cap functions properly.

The Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs) raised several issues in response to the ESI. The major issue is that the site conditions are appreciably different at present compared with that during the ESI, which warrants a new round of sampling. I concur. Another is that the background sediment sample was not representative because it may have been located in a scour zone of the river lacking in fine particles, thereby underrepresenting the levels of background contamination. I agree that the background could be more carefully selected. The literature citation made for extremely high background contaminant levels in the Little Calumet River appears to be erroneous. In any case, site specific data are required to reevaluate the background.

An argument was presented that the PAHs are not related to the site. There are two lines of reasoning: 1) that river sample PAHs are equivalent to background, and 2) that ditch PAHs are derived from truck emissions. The first statement is discussed in the previous paragraph. The traffic question could be resolved by taking additional ditch samples upgradient from Land and Lakes Landfill #2. The overall argument is rejected because of the ubiquity of the PAHs in ditch, river, and soil samples.

Cyanide was not addressed in the Response to the ESI.

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